Memorise the Bible

The underlying assumption in all that we have considered together is that we are in fact teaching our children and young people intentionally from the Bible.  Our desire must be for our children to have a good working knowledge of the whole of the Scriptures, and to grow up understanding how to make sense of them.  Obviously we want to give the children and young people at St. John’s an overall view of the Bible (that shapes how we teach in Sunday Groups, for example).[1]  But in addition, we should aim to instil in the minds of our children and young people a specific knowledge of Biblical texts – or to put that in everyday language: memorizing the Bible from as early an age as possible.  Few other things will equip them as effectively for godly thinking, living and decision making throughout their lives. 


Chuck Swindoll wrote, “I know of no other single practice in the Christian life more rewarding, practically speaking, than memorizing Scripture. . . . No other single exercise pays greater spiritual dividends! Your prayer life will be strengthened. Your witnessing will be sharper and much more effective. Your attitudes and outlook will begin to change. Your mind will become alert and observant. Your confidence and assurance will be enhanced. Your faith will be solidified”.  There is absolutely no reason to assume those benefits are exclusive to those over the age of 21. 


One of the reasons Martin Luther came to his great discovery in the Bible of justification by faith alone was that in his early years in the Augustinian monastery he was influenced to love Scripture by Johann Staupitz. Luther devoured the Bible and knew so much of the Bible from memory that when the Lord opened his eyes to see the truth of justification in Romans 1:17, he said, “Thereupon I ran through the Scriptures from memory,” in order to confirm what he had found.


So here are a few reasons why Scripture memorization is essential to the Christian life.[2] 


1. Conformity to Christ

Paul wrote in II Cor.3:18 that if we would be changed into Christ likeness we must steadily see him. This happens in the word. “The Lord revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the Lord” (1 Samuel 3:21). Bible memorization has the effect of making our gaze on Jesus steadier and clearer.


2. Daily Triumph over Sin

“I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11). Paul said that we must “by the Spirit . . . put to death the [sinful] deeds of the body” (Romans 8:13). The one piece of armour used to kill is the “sword of the Spirit” which is the word of God (Ephesians 6:17). As we face temptation, we call to mind a Christ-revealing word of Scripture and slay the temptation with the superior worth and beauty of Christ over what sin offers.  When Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness he recited Scripture from memory and put Satan to flight (Matthew 4:1-11).


3. Comfort and Counsel for People You Love

The times when people need you to give them comfort and counsel do not always coincide with the times you have your Bible handy. Not only that, the very word of God spoken spontaneously from your heart has unusual power. Proverbs 25:11 says, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” When the heart full of God’s love can draw on the mind full of God’s word, timely blessings flow from the mouth.


4. Communicating the Gospel to Unbelievers

Opportunities to share the gospel come when we do not have the Bible in hand. Actual verses of the Bible have their own penetrating power. And when they come from our heart, as well as from the Book, the witness is given that they are precious enough to learn.


5. Communion with God in the Enjoyment of His Person and Ways

The way we commune with (that is, fellowship with) God is by meditating on his attributes and expressing to him our thanks and admiration and love, and seeking his help to live a life that reflects the value of these attributes. Storing texts in our minds about God helps us relate to him as he really is.


I used the word “enjoyment” intentionally when I said, “communion with God in the enjoyment of his person and ways.” Most of us are emotionally crippled—all of us, really. We do not experience God in the fullness of our emotional potential. How will that change? One way is to memorize the emotional expressions of the Bible and speak them to the Lord and to each other until they become part of who we are. If we memorize emotional expressions from the Bible, and say them often, asking the Lord to make the emotion real in our hearts, we can actually grow into that emotion and expression. It will become part of who we are. We will be less emotionally crippled and more able to render proper praise and thanks to God.


There are other reasons for memorizing Scripture, and for teaching our children to memorize it.  I hope you find them in the actual practice.


With the exception of the opening paragraph, and footnotes, this is substantively an abridged version

of an article:  Why Memorize Scripture, by Dr. John Piper, available at



[1] The question of which Bible to use with children is more complicated than you might first imagine.  I’m generally disappointed with ‘Children’s Bibles’ both in terms of what they leave out, and in how faithful they are to the parts they leave in.  I also think the artwork can be pretty unhelpful in some Children’s Bibles.  For younger children we found The Jesus Story Book Bible (written by Sally Lloyd Jones and published by ZonderKidz) pretty useful – and it has the added bonus of having matching videos online.  Also, ‘My First Bible’ published by Marks and Spencer.  Older kids might benefit from the Lion Graphic Bible (Jeff Anderson & Mike Maddox).  My own thinking is that certainly by eight or nine, a child should be reading, and being taught from, a full text version of the Scriptures.  There are some good, accessible versions available, including a children’s NIV; children’s ESV & New Living Translation, if you feel a standard text might be inappropriate.

[2] There are a number of Bible memorisation programmes on the market, e.g. Fighter verses, from children desiring God (available through Amazon) – or check out 

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Children and Church

Last week I began to outline some of the reasons I think we should be intentionally teaching and training our children not just in the stories of the Bible, but also in building the theological framework that will allow them to interpret those stories properly.  One great way of doing that which has been tried and tested through the generations is the practise of catechising. 


I hope it goes without saying that in exploring this I am not advocating a dry intellectualism.  You may remember a couple of articles ago I placed teaching minds in relationship with how important it is that we teach the hearts of the children in our midst.  This is done in part as they see our own example in worship (which provides one important reason why All-Age worship – if well done – should be part of the rhythm of a Church’s life; and why it is good that our children are regularly in ‘adult’ services, even if only for a few minutes). Simply put, if Christ doesn’t move us, the children at St. John’s will soon figure that out; and what’s worse is that they will assume Christ isn’t capable of moving us!  That is when we lose them.  Truth becomes very powerful when it is wedded to a deep spiritual love for Christ, and when it is taught by those (parents, Sunday Group leaders and others) who are overwhelmed with God’s goodness (see e.g. Psalm 4:7).  On top of that, you’ll have heard me talk already in a couple of sermons about the relationship between truth and worship.  Truth about God, properly appropriated must inevitably lead to profound, heart-felt worship.


Neither am I suggesting that a catechism is the only thing we should be teaching.  Teaching about the great theological battles and spiritual revivals of Church history; biography (see the torch lighter series!); appropriate devotional literature; cultivating an awareness of the global Church and the issues she faces (; as well as showing how our faith informs issues such as friendship etc. all form part of the ‘curriculum’ we are presenting the children and young people in our midst! Their vision of Christ (like ours) must be sufficient to engulf all of life.  I guess I am focussing on catechising because that may be the part of the package that has fallen most into disrepair, and for which it might be most difficult to see the immediate relevance and benefit.


Nevertheless, catechising remains a powerful tool for the discipleship of children and young people in any family or congregation.  This is not only because of the intentional and balanced way in which it can comprehensively cover the landscape of Christian belief, but also because it gives us opportunity to weave teaching our children into their experience of life generally.  I remember during one of our visits to the local swimming pool, sitting with my kids while they were listening to another boy in the changing rooms boasting to a friend about how he gets to keep his locker money by telling his mum he forgot to take it out of the locker.  Because we had recently been looking at the 10 commandments in our family devotions (which last about 10 minutes a day, and once you’re in the habit you’ll find the kids will be wanting to do it even when you don’t!), we were able to have a very interesting conversation on the way home, about everything from honouring parents, to telling lies, stealing and having the Lord as our God!  I found that the catechism had already done a lot of the work for me.  It had already explained these ideas to my kids in the simple answers it gave to the deep questions asked.[1]  The structured input makes spontaneous instruction possible.


The regular input also provides the material from which great questions are formed.  As they learn the questions and answers in a catechism it fires other, more spontaneous questions that give us opportunity after opportunity to teach them about the wonder of Jesus and His Gospel.  The great thing about the wider Church being involved in this – or at least aware of it – is that the opportunities to teach are compounded.  The result of this proactive and reactive teaching, reinforced in family life, Sunday Groups and throughout the Church family, is the cultivation in children of a Christ-centred way of thinking about themselves, their world and their God. 


Of course, it’s not all about direct and didactic instruction!  Children pick up a huge amount by simply being a part of the Church.  They will learn more about prayer from watching and listening to us pray, than by what we ‘teach’ them about prayer.  Similarly, what we say about love, compassion and forgiveness will be either reinforced, or critically undermined, as they watch how we relate to each other in the life of the Church.  We can tell them Christ should be listened to, and His words put into practise; but it is unlikely they will believe us unless they see this in us.  The flip side is that unless we do teach them, they won’t understand what we are doing or why! 


As I’ve tried to stress a number of times already in these articles, we have a corporate responsibility to the children and young people in our midst.  We need to be clear as a Church that the primary responsibility for the evangelism and discipleship of children and young people lies with their parents!  But we are hopelessly naïve if we think the wider Church has no part to play.  We can’t simply assume that we’ve done all the Lord expects of us because of the gallant efforts of the staff team and those who run Sunday groups week by week.  This is something that affects us all, and that we must all participate in.  There is an old proverb that talks about how it takes a village to raise a child.  Perhaps.  But it certainly takes a whole Church family to raise our children in the ways of the Lord.  In order to do this, children have to be consistently, intentionally and genuinely a part of the Church.  This doesn’t mean they are a part of everything that a Church does, nor does it mean that they are necessarily the focus, or a deciding factor in any decision. But it is to be expected both that they are there and that they are integral.  Children learn from being a part of something – not merely observers, or receptors of information.  It’s the way God designed them, and so we shouldn’t be surprised that the Bible sees them as fully involved in the worshipping life of the Body of Christ - something we will be looking at as this series of articles develops.


[1] For younger children particularly, I am recommending the use of a series of books by Carine MacKenzie: ‘My first book…’.  The series covers a general catechism; Jesus, Church, memory verses, Bible prayers, Christian virtues, published by Christian Focus.  For older children a modern translation of a classical catechism will take a little bit of getting into, but will more than repay the effort.

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Over the last couple of articles I’ve been talking about the importance of teaching the heart of a child.  But what about the mind?  What can we expect from children in terms of their understanding?  I suspect far more than we might initially think.  It might not all fall into place at once, but by God’s grace, what we teach them now, the Holy Spirit will enable them to understand more fully as they grow older.  We should be working intentionally, putting in place today the structures that will allow them to understand much deeper truth tomorrow.  Think of the way children learn to write.  First, they hear sounds; then they learn to connect those sounds with patterns - letters; then to put letters together to make increasingly complex sounds and words.  Then we teach them writing structure which develops in complexity as experience and understanding grows.  Each step builds on what has gone before and prepares a child for what will come next.  God’s word can be taught this way.    We will be seeking to develop a way of teaching in our Sunday Groups that does this as effectively as possible throughout the age groups.  As it develops you’ll notice a number of component parts.  Obviously we will be teaching them the stories of the Bible, but we’ll be doing a lot more than that!


Have you ever watched a child grouping similar things together?  Kids have cleared a developmental hurdle when they learn that certain things belong together – in contrast to certain other things.  In this simple and entirely natural act of a child, they demonstrate they have the skills they need to do systematic theology!!?  What’s that?  Theologian John Frame says it is “any study that answers the question: ‘What does the whole Bible teach about any given topic?”.  It is something we all do instinctively as we read the Bible.  It is the process of collecting and understanding all the relevant passages in the Bible on various topics, and then summarising their teaching clearly so that we know what to believe.  Just like sorting different coloured blocks into piles, we accumulate passages from the Bible that teach on a common theme, and so distil the Wisdom of God that is scattered through the pages of His Word.[1]  The better our knowledge of Scripture, the more effective can be our sorting of passages.


So, for example, ‘what does the Bible teach about prayer?’  We’d want to take some examples of people praying in books like Genesis, or Kings.  We’d probably have a look at some passages from the Prophetic books, such as Isaiah.  I guess we’d plunder the book of Psalms.  Obviously we’d carefully consider Jesus’ teaching; and we know that Paul models prayer in his letters, so we’d engage with that…  As we bring it all together we are engaging in systematic theology.  Like I said, it’s something we all do.  The only difference is that some people do it well and so reflect accurately what the Bible does teach … others not so much!


The fact is that we need a good systematic theology in place if we are to handle the Bible well.  This was John Calvin’s thinking when he wrote his monumental ‘Institutes of the Christian Religion’.  Although we may feel intimidated by a book like the Institutes, he actually wrote it in part to give new Christians a framework (a systematic theology) that would allow them to make sense of the Bible.  A good systematic theology helps us (whatever age we are) to read the Bible in a way that safeguards against wrong interpretations and leads us into Truth. 


Again, an example might help.  Think about the story in Genesis 3.  Adam and Eve break God’s rule, and take something they shouldn’t.  OK – that’s something kids can identify with.  Breaking rules and taking something they’ve been told they are not allowed.  But look at God’s response!  They broke one rule and God throws them out of the garden, and imposes on them consequences that last not just for their entire lives, but also that affect the lives of everyone who comes after them!  That could be pretty confusing for a child.  It could easily look like God is massively over-reacting.  What guards us against interpreting the story this way?  We have a whole systematic theology in place that engages with the narrative through a lens coloured by our understanding of doctrines like ‘(original) sin’; ‘holiness’; ‘fall’; ‘covenant’; ‘grace’; Gospel’ etc.  We have learned this from other parts of the Bible, and we use it to make (proper) sense out of what we read in Genesis 3.  Our children and young people need systematic theology, otherwise we risk them going away thinking that God is a pedantic and over-reacting bully, who just wants everything exactly his own way.  It is our systematic theology that allows us to understand the significance of events in a narrative.


So what does this have to do with children and young people in the life of our families and Church?  It’s interesting to me that so many of the big pastors and theologians in history have written children’s catechisms.  Luther, Calvin, and British pastors (e.g. Bunyan, Spurgeon), wrote children’s catechisms, and gave time to the catechising of children.  One of the greatest theological conferences in the world took place in Westminster between 1643 and 1652.  The greatest and godliest minds in the British Church assembled, and were joined by luminaries from throughout Europe.  They produced a number of theological documents which were so brilliant that they are used as the basis for theological study to this day.  One of those documents was the Westminster Shorter Catechism – a series of questions and answers designed to help children build a good systematic theology.  It might feel incredible to us that the most brilliant pastors and theologians of the day would think of writing a children’s introduction to the Bible’s teaching, but to them it was all but self-evident that this was their responsibility and privilege.


Simply asking questions and teaching (& explaining) answers can help children to grasp the essence of the Bible’s teaching in language that is pitched at their stage in development.  Here’s a great example from a modern children’s catechism[2]:


1.        Who made you?                                                                                              God (Gen.1:27)

2.         Why did God make you?                                                   To glorify Him, and enjoy Him (I Cor.10:31)

3.        What else did God make?                                                                        God made all things (Gen.1:31)

4.        Why did God make all things?                                       For His own glory (Rev.4:11)

5.        Where does God teach us how to praise Him and enjoy Him?            

In His word the Bible (John 5:39)

6.        Who wrote the Bible?                                                        Holy men taught by the Holy Spirit (II Tim.3:16).


You may want to tweak some of the answers, and perhaps you can think of a better verse, which children can memorise as they grow older.  But you get the idea.  In teaching them at Church in a way that resonates and reinforces what they are learning at home we are giving our children the tools to read the Bible for themselves.  We are giving them the beginnings of deep truth they can grow into, rather than trite platitudes they will grow out of.  


[1] Thanks to Children Desiring God for this analogy!

[2] My first book of Questions and Answers, by Carine MacKenzie – part of a series.

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Beware the Pharisee

Last edition, we began to explore the importance of getting to the hearts of the children and young people in our midst, so that they learn at that deep level how to love God and walk in obedience to Him.  Or to put it another way, at St. John’s we want to raise children who will be authentic worshippers of God in Christ.  That isn’t an optional extra.  If we don’t teach them to delight in Christ, they will learn to worship something / someone else.


The problem is that all too often we settle for the much more superficial (and easily managed and measured) goal of good behaviour.  Whether at home, or in Church, we want well behaved children.  A complaint you might occasionally hear in the life of any Church is to do with the children’s behaviour.  The plaintive cry of many a hassled parent is ‘Why can’t you just behave yourselves!’ Now, don’t mis-read me.  I’m all for well-behaved children!  But what I’m not for is a Church that breeds Pharisees.  Pharisees are immaculately well behaved, but their heart is untouched by the beauty of His holiness.  They know how to behave, but not how to worship.  Our concerns must be deeper than behaviour as an end in itself – we desire the hearts of our children to be turned to Christ.  A heart captured for Jesus is the key to Christ-like behaviour.  And that is a much deeper vision for the children and young people in our midst.


Our families and our Church must be communities of redemptive grace in which children hear the call to faithful discipleship.  We are here to be changed through our encounter with a God of grace through word and sacrament.  There isn’t a different agenda for children or young people.  Like the rest of us they need to be encountered by their God and redeemed through the work of the Holy Spirit.   Particularly as parents we cannot be content with merely managing and controlling behaviour.  We do have responsibilities here, but if we settle for that there won’t be lasting change, and as soon as our children move beyond the sphere of our influence (and so our structures of control), there will be nothing to restrain them any longer.  As parents we must parent the heart and not (just) their behaviour. 


Jesus captured this powerfully in the image of fruit-bearing tree in Luke 6: 43 “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. 44 Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. ... 45 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart.


Behind every behaviour there are attitudes and desires of the heart.   Lasting change always comes through a change of heart.  Authority and discipline are needed (however they articulate themselves in your family) but always in the context of getting at the issues of the heart.  The danger lies in the fact that managing behaviour (often through threat, intimidation or manipulation) achieves more immediate results.  It’s tempting, because we want lasting change to be instant.  But it isn’t – it will be a process for them just as it is for us. It will be a growth in their understanding of themselves and in their understanding of God (on which more in coming articles).  The process of touching the heart is a spiritual thing.  As parents we have to recognise that it is fundamentally beyond our reach.  It is the work of the Holy Spirit.  That said, we do have the responsibility to set up what Paul Tripp calls ‘a transaction with God’.  He suggests five questions that can structure a conversation that has the potential to touch the heart.


1.       What happened?

The aim to help a child simply recall the events they have been a part of.  Tripp suggests we don’t worry too much about the inevitable bias there will be in the account – after all, we all have a perspective.

2.       What were you thinking and feeling as it was happening?

We want the child / young person to recognise that they were not passive, but that they interacted with, and formulated their response to the situation as it developed. 

3.       What did you do in response to the situation?

Help the child / young person to recognise that our words and behaviour come from the heart (what we thought and felt about the situation).   Our behaviour is not formed by the situation, but by our hearts response to that situation. 

4.       What were you seeking to accomplish by doing what you did?

This helps to identify motives, goals, purpose, desires…  what is really driving us.

5.       What was the result?

Help the child / young person to recognise the consequences of their behaviour, including the fact that they are now in trouble with their parents!


The aim is to help children and young people to connect their behaviour with their heart, not with the external circumstances of their situation.  Obviously the sophistication and self-awareness develops over the years.  But as we prayerfully embark on this process again and again, we are looking to compare and contrast with the Bible’s teaching about what we should think and feel and how we should act.  In this we are teaching our children / young people the art of repentance and of being conformed to the image of Christ. 


Actually, these are pretty good questions to work on for ourselves as adults.  As we do, we find we are modelling the process for our children through our own commitment to growing in Christ, and we will find we are ‘shepherding them with integrity of heart’ (Ps.78:72).

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Teach them to Worship

We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders He has done.  He decreed statutes for Jacob, and established the Law in Israel, which he commanded out forefathers to teach their children, so that the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children.  Then they would put their trust in God, and would not forget His deeds, but would keep His commands.


Psalm 78:4-7


Again and again in the Scriptures we run up against the responsibility God has put in the lives of parents and churches to intentionally and deliberately instruct the children in their midst.  ‘He commanded our forefathers to teach their children’.  At its most basic level then, this is a matter of obedience.  But as with all the commands of the LORD, there is in fact also deep wisdom and joy in our obedience.  After all, He teaches us what is best for us (Is.48:17).


There are however, a number of dangers that we need to be aware of as we consider together how best to embed these structures into the life of our families and our Church.  Perhaps one of the most pertinent in our context is the risk of reducing this process simply to the intellectual imparting of information.  We might find ourselves particularly prone to this mistake because of the way education works in Britain.  If we simply transpose models of schooling into the life of a congregation we are falling far short of what the LORD calls us to. 


Don’t get me wrong!  I’m not saying we don’t need to teach the content and the truth of our faith.  One of these articles at least will be exploring why explaining the content of Scripture, and e.g. catechising our children intentionally in the faith is an outstanding practise, and one for which children are uniquely suited!  But while this is absolutely critical, it is not in itself sufficient.  Obviously we need to know what the commands of the LORD are if we are to keep them, but we need more than simply information if we are to obey them – that is as much true for children as for adults.  We need to implement something that is far more comprehensive and that engages children at every level of their being, including, but not restricted to their minds.  As Jesus put it so succinctly when questioned: ‘Love the Lord you God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength … and love your neighbour as yourself’ (Mk.12:30).


We are to teach the children in our midst not just to know about our Lord, but to love Him. This is much more challenging than the imparting of information.  How do we go about doing it?  I want to suggest that as well as imparting knowledge, we must also model what it means to live in the light of that reality, and how to relate to it and rejoice in it.  A quote from the immense theologian, Jonathan Edwards, might help to clarify what we’re driving towards: “My grandfather was a man who in the presence of God appeared not only to believe but to delight”.  It is one thing to teach the children and young people in our midst about the reality of God’s presence - and it is clearly an important thing.  But to show them that we delight in that presence is another thing entirely…


That obviously puts an additional responsibility on us as we gather to worship week by week.  Corporate worship is by its very nature didactic.  As we worship together we are teaching others what it means to worship the living God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Take as an example leading intercessions.  We all pray.  We know what it is to go into our room to close the door and to pray to our Father who is unseen (see Matt.6:6).  But when we lead prayers in a public setting, we are doing more than simply praying, or indeed even leading others in prayer.  We are inevitably modelling prayer and teaching about prayer in the way that we do it.  The same is true of every aspect of our worship together: how we engage with Scripture, how and what we sing etc.  We are intrinsically modelling, teaching, and instructing others by our own attitude and example (especially our children).  We aren’t just thinking about the content of what is said and sung about who God is and what He has done, but about how we are captivated by that, how we are shaped by it, and how these realities fire in us a devotion to Christ, and a commitment to each other … or not.  Either way we are teaching, and either way the children in our midst are learning. 


Psalm 78 calls us to instruct our children in such a way that they will in turn be positioned to teach the generation that comes after them.  If they are going to be able to do this, they need to learn to be those who don’t just know about God but who delight in Him.  Where will they learn that?  The Psalm goes on to warn us about a previous generation whose hearts were not loyal to God, and whose spirits were not faithful to Him (v.8).  It concludes by celebrating the raising up of David – a man who is characterised by having a heart that is after God (I Sam.13:14 & Acts 13:22).  Thus, ‘David shepherded them with integrity of heart…’ (v.72).  He modelled the kind of heart-instruction this Psalm is calling us to.  Yes, it is the Holy Spirit’s responsibility to save and teach them to delight in God.  But He has chosen to do it through us, and the example we set, and the instruction we give.  That is a responsibility that goes beyond parents, or those who are specifically teaching our Sunday groups week by week.  It is a responsibility that rests on the whole Church family. 


We’ll have a look at both aspects of this over the next few weeks – teaching both about God and about delighting in God.  May God grant us the grace and wisdom to not just teach our children, but to show them how to put their trust in Him, and to keep His commands because we love Him (Jn.14:15).

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Teach your Children

Ask almost any Church in Britain today what they feel are the greatest challenges they face, and ‘children and young people’ is bound to figure fairly close to the top of the list.  We are haunted by survey after survey that confirms what we know anecdotally to be true:  that we are losing our children and young people at an alarming rate.   As a pastor, it is not uncommon for me to hear parents and the wider congregations express concern about young people ‘walking away’ from their involvement in Church.


Well, whatever conclusions we draw from surveys and statistics, or from our own observations and experiences; and whatever the reasons we might think there are for the situation as we find it today, one thing we have to admit is that St. John’s is positively teeming with children.   At a rough guess I’d say that 20-25% of the congregation on a given Sunday morning is under 16.  Our work with children and young people draws in a significant number of people as leaders and helpers. That is a profoundly humbling observation – especially if there is truth in those surveys.  It puts us in a place of incredible privilege, and with it an incredible responsibility: one that St. John’s is already grappling with.  It is significant that we have employed both a youth worker and a families & children’s worker; and that we have an active branch of the Mother’s Union whose stated aims include encouraging parents in their role to develop the faith of their children.  I’d like to use this first series of articles to speak into this aspect of our life together, and help us as we continue to think through the place of children in our families and our Church.


My basic convictions as a pastor (and as a parent!) are born out of the observation that the Scriptures are clear about the intentionality with which parents and Churches should engage with and teach the children in their midst about what it means to worship the Lord and walk with Him.  We are maybe familiar with the approach of standing back, and allowing children to grow up and make up their own minds.  I confess I am increasingly concerned when I hear this.  Especially when it is used as a noble sounding justification for not engaging with our responsibility to teach, train and model the life of faith to those coming after us.  Apart from the fact that I think it falls short of what the Bible teaches, three immediate responses include firstly the observation that if we are not teaching them our faith, then we are implicitly teaching them something else.  Secondly, we don’t take that attitude to anything else we consider to be of importance in their life (e.g. eating or education).  And thirdly, it is an obvious enough point that children and young people will make their own decisions when they grow up – but the Bible says that it is our job is to do all we can to help them make informed decisions based on a lifetime of being exposed to godly teaching and example from those they have grown up around.  


If as adults they choose to walk away from all they have seen and experienced that speaks to them of the truth and reality of the Gospel, then that is between them and God, even if they do break our hearts in doing so.  But it is our responsibility to make sure that they know what they are walking away from!  One of the most devastating things to hear is about how someone grew up in a Church, but now isn’t a Christian because they never really understood what it was all about; or because they concluded from their own observation that it wasn’t real or valued by those they grew up in the midst of.  May this never be said by someone who has grown up in St. John’s.  Let them rather declare as a child, as a young person and as an adult that here they had the opportunity to ‘taste and see that the Lord is good’! (Psalm 34:8).


You will hear me on a number of occasions drawing your attention to passages such as Deuteronomy 6:4-8 & 20-23.  It’s a very powerful moment in the life of the Church.  Standing on the brink of Israel, Moses is addressing them for the last time.  He knows there will be many difficulties and testings ahead of them.  In the heat of battle and in the trials of life together they will be tempted to ignore or forget what it means to be the people of God.  But, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Moses has devised a strategy, which if followed, will ensure that from generation to generation the people of God will remain faithful.  It is a strategy designed to overcome all the obstacles that life in a fallen world can throw at us, and that will ensure the growth and strength of the Church for years to come:


These commands that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.  Impress them upon your children.  Talk about them when

you sit at home and when you walk along the road,

when you lie down and when you get up…



The great tragedy of course is that the Church didn’t follow Moses (and thus the Holy Spirit’s) command.  The Holy Spirit had committed Himself to work through these means to ensure the raising up of godly men and women throughout the generations.  The Church’s failure sent them instead into the catastrophic spiral we read about in the book of Judges (see e.g. 2:10).  We are to provide a context of godly teaching and example, in ways that are both structured and spontaneous.  The commands of the Gospel are to be impressed upon our own hearts first.  They are to shape our lives first.  And then we are to impress [to affect strongly the mind or emotions; to arouse interest and approval; fix in the memory; to stamp, imprint] them on our children.  We are not to wait till they go wrong, and then try to teach them how to do it right next time!  We are to work pre-emptively to give them a way of thinking in which they understand themselves to be made in God’s image and for His glory, so that this is how they interpret themselves and life in this world.  We are to shape their thought patterns through planned and unplanned opportunities throughout their experience of life. 


What we do in Sunday Groups week by week is a part of that.  We take our responsibility as families, and as a Church family, with utmost seriousness, and we do it confident that the Lord is working through us to raise up men and women of God in the next generation of St. John’s and the wider Church.  What a calling… a calling that affects us all.


And it is this calling that we will be exploring in these articles in coming weeks...

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